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Ofcom proposes rules for product placement on TV

MUMBAI: UK media watchdog Ofcom has published proposed new rules to allow product placement on TV. It is also proposing to liberalise the rules on paid-for references to brands and products in radio programmes. 
 
To date, Ofcom‘s Broadcasting Code has prohibited product placement. This prohibition was based on the requirements of European legislation. Changes to EU law, and resulting amendments to UK legislation, now allow for the placing of references to products, services or trade marks in television programmes in return for payment.


As a result of these changes, Ofcom intends to amend the Code to remove the prohibition on product placement. This consultation, therefore, sets out proposed new rules reflecting the new UK legislation that enables product placement in television programming. 
 
The introduction of product placement impacts on the regulation of other types of commercial references during television programming, such as sponsorship. Ofocm is also proposing revisions to those rules that it considers are impacted by product placement.


Scope of product placement rules: Under the Communications Act 2003, product placement is defined as being "for a commercial purpose". Ofcom is proposing to apply the rules to all instances of paid-for placement, regardless of whether the placement is intended to serve a commercial purpose.


Single dramas are not specifically referred to in the list of programme genres in which product placement is permitted. Ofcom is proposing to clarify that such programmes fall within the definition of films and may, therefore, contain product placement. 
 
News: The Act does not explicitly prohibit product placement in news but the Government has made it clear in its statement that news does not fall within the programme genres in which product placement is permitted.


Ofcom is proposing a rule to clarify that product placement is prohibited in news programmes.


Thematic placement: Ofcom is proposing to clarify that thematic placement - that is the creation of scripts/storylines as vehicles for the purpose of featuring the aims, objectives, beliefs or interests of a third party funder - is prohibited.


Specialist factual programmes: Ofcom is seeking views on whether it should prohibit product placement in specialist factual programmes (e.g. purely factual programmes covering educational, science, medical or arts subjects, or those that are investigative in nature).


Prohibited restricted products/services: in addition to those products, services and trade marks that are prohibited under the Act from being included in programmes as a result of product placement arrangements, Ofcom proposes to prohibit the paid-for placement within programmes of any product, service or trade mark that cannot be advertised on television.


Signalling of product placement: The Act includes a signalling requirement for product placement.


Ofcom says, "We are proposing that audiences are made aware of instances of product placement by means of a universal neutral logo, and a universal audio signal (to ensure that both visually and hearing impaired audience members are made aware when a programme contains product placement).


"Additionally, we are proposing that broadcasters make available to the audience a list (in a programme‘s end credits or on the broadcaster‘s website) of products, services or trade marks that have been placed in a programme. We also make a range of proposals in relation to raising audiences‘ awareness of the product placement signals and what they mean."


Sponsorship : The current rules that apply to television sponsorship are based on the principle that paid-for commercial references are kept separate from editorial. The introduction of product placement changes this position. Ofcom is consulting on proposed revisions to those sponsorship rules that are underpinned by the separation principle.


Sponsor references within sponsored programmes: It is proposing to remove the rules that prevent sponsorship arrangements resulting in references to the sponsor within a sponsored programme.


Ofcom also intends to clarify that where a reference to the sponsor‘s products, services or trade mark are included in a programme, this will be treated as product placement and must, therefore, comply with the relevant rules.


Identifying sponsorship arrangements: Ofcom is proposing revisions on how sponsorship arrangements are announced to ensure that audience members are made appropriately aware when they are viewing commercial messages, and can distinguish between different types of commercial arrangements, such as sponsorship and product placement.


Sponsorship credits during programmes: Ofcom is proposing to amend the rules on sponsorship credits to allow credits to be broadcast during programmes. However, to ensure that such credits do not conflict with the product placement rules and are not unacceptably intrusive, it is proposing a number of restrictions on the content and scheduling of credits shown during programmes.

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